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UK Government to block Scottish gender recognition reforms

16 Jan 2023 5 minute read
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack. Photo Aaron Chown PA Images

The UK Government is to block controversial reforms of the gender recognition process passed by Holyrood, in a move branded by Nicola Sturgeon as a “full-frontal attack” on the Scottish Parliament.

She hit out after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack confirmed he would make an order under Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998.

It is the first time the UK Government has sought such an order, which will now prevent the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from going forward for royal assent, and the move will only further increase tension between the Scottish and UK governments.

Announcing his decision Mr Jack said: “After thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation.”

He insisted this was the “necessary and correct course of action”.

Attack

But the Scottish First Minister in response tweeted: “This is a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters.”

She pledged the Scottish Government would “defend the legislation and stand up for Scotland’s Parliament”.

She added: “If this Westminster veto succeeds, it will be first of many.”

Her comments came after Mr Jack had insisted the changes in the Scottish legislation could have an “adverse impact” on existing equalities laws.

But his decision comes just hours after Ms Sturgeon claimed if the UK Government moved to block the legislation it would be “unconscionable and indefensible and really quite disgraceful”.

She said she would “robustly and rigorously and with a very, very high degree of confidence” defend the Bill, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament last month.

The legislation sets out to simplify the process of obtaining a Gender Recognition certificate, and for the first time allows transgender people to obtain such a document without the need for a medical diagnosis.

It would also cut the time they have to live in their acquired gender before applying for a certificate, and reduce the age at which an application can be made to 16 with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer saying recently he was concerned about this aspect of the legislation.

Respect

Mr Jack, who has written to both Ms Sturgeon and Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone about the matter, insisted that “transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding”.

He stated: “My decision today is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters.

“I have not taken this decision lightly.

“The Bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales.

“I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action.”

He said if Holyrood ministers were to bring brought an amended Bill back for reconsideration, he would hope that the Scottish and UK governments could “work together to find a constructive way forward that both respects devolution and the operation of UK Parliament legislation”.

However, Ms Sturgeon had earlier insisted the UK Government would be “using trans people as a political weapon” should Westminster seek to block the legislation.

Outrage

In a briefing on Monday the Scottish First Minister claimed any such move would be an “outrage”.

“In my view there are no grounds to challenge this legislation,” she said.

“It is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament, it doesn’t affect the operation of the Equality Act and it was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament after very lengthy and very intense scrutiny by MSPs of all parties represented in the Parliament.

“So if there is a decision to challenge, in my view, it will be quite simply a political decision and I think it will be using trans people, already one of the most vulnerable, stigmatised groups in our society, as a political weapon.

“And I think that will be unconscionable and indefensible and really quite disgraceful.”

The First Minister said the move to block the legislation would create a “very, very slippery slope indeed”, adding that it could “normalise” and “embolden” the UK Government to do the same in other areas.

“I think it is that serious.

“I think the import and significance of this would go beyond the particular subject matter of the legislation,” she said.

Addressing the Labour leader’s comments, the First Minister said: “Finally, on this issue of Keir Starmer, I start to wonder, and I suspect I am not the only one who starts to wonder, if there is anything Keir Starmer is willing to stand up and be counted on in the face of Tory attacks.

“I don’t think the UK needs a pale imitation of this Tory Government, it needs an alternative to this Tory Government.

“But, on this particular issue, this is legislation that was scrutinised and voted for by Keir Starmer’s own party in the Scottish Parliament, so if he backed any move by the Government to block this he would be showing utter contempt for his own Scottish party as well as the Scottish Parliament.”


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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
11 days ago

Firstly, this is a very worrying time to be transgender in the UK (so seeing your own First Minister taking freebies off people who hate us isn’t exactly reassuring). Secondly, this is a good example of Westminster’s idea of democracy (ie. “You lot will do as we say and allow and nothing else”). Thirdly this isn’t just an attack on the rights of transpeople to define their own selves, it is a clear example of just how little Westminster wants ANYONE to be able to define their own self and their own lies… They don’t want ANY PEOPLE AT ALL… Read more »

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
11 days ago

Im sure that even those who may have reservations about the bill – and even those who oppose it outright – will be able to see just how wrong and dangerous the UK govt’s decision to block it is. As Nicola Sturgeon said “It is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament, it doesn’t affect the operation of the Equality Act and it was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament after very lengthy and very intense scrutiny by MSPs of all parties represented in the Parliament”. There are absolutely no grounds for Rishi Shunak’s tory govt to… Read more »

CJPh
CJPh
11 days ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

Very well put, Leigh. This law is (as far as I understand – and, if technically not the case, should be made the case on ethical grounds) be within the remit of the duly elected government of Scotland to introduce and enforce. I greatly oppose such laws, the ‘proscribed rights’ approach, this oppressive tolerance and blind following of idiot identity politics to signal virtue, the top-down rewriting of the social contract (and damned be the consequences – goverment knows best), but the continued overlordship of Westminster over the Celtic nations is something we should all unite against. It is objectively… Read more »

Last edited 11 days ago by CJPh
Karl Johnson
Karl Johnson
11 days ago

It isn’t simply a devolved issue though – it does have the potential to affect the operation of the EA and the protected characteristic of sex – and that has an impact beyond Scotland. The second chapter in this explains very well the ways in which it could impact, and it’s more than just birth and death certificates (which are historical documents). https://policyexchange.org.uk/publication/the-scottish-gender-recognition-reform-bill/

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
11 days ago
Reply to  Karl Johnson

Er policy exchange are a Conservative think tank. Indeed in 2007 the Daily Telegraph stated that Policy Exchange was “the largest, but also the most influential think tank on the right”….nuff said.

KPA
KPA
11 days ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

Well, the left (of which I consider myself to be very much a part) have shut their eyes to this issue, so that does rather limit one’s sources. At the end of the day research is research, and an intelligent person can look at that and filter out the conservative bias in order to identify the actual facts the research has uncovered.

Leigh Richards
Leigh Richards
11 days ago
Reply to  Karl Johnson

For the record Policy Exchange are a Conservative think tank. Indeed it has been described as “the largest, but also the most influential think tank on the right”….nuff said.

Karl Johnson
Karl Johnson
11 days ago
Reply to  Leigh Richards

Good Wikipedia use there Leigh – it also says it centre right and has frequent left wing contributors. So putting the left right divide aside (I am a left winger myself) it’s important to ‘read all about it’. Unfortunately if we waited for the left wing press to critically discuss it we’d never hear anything. The fact is it does affect the operation of the Equality act as the earlier ruling confirms that the ‘change of legal sex’ applies in all areas meaning that exemptions previously based on sex will now be obliged to accept men who call themselves women,… Read more »

Rob
Rob
11 days ago

Regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree with the proposed legislation, it was scrutinised and voted for by the Scottish Parliament who are democratically elected by the Scottish people.

Can you imagine if Brussels had blocked legislation passed by the UK Parliament? The Tories would be screaming bloody murder.

KPA
KPA
11 days ago
Reply to  Rob

It was voted through because Sturgeon made it a whipped vote. Surveys show the Scottish public are against it.

Doctor Trousers
11 days ago
Reply to  KPA

Sturgeon made it a whipped vote? She got the power to whip other parties, aye?

Rob
Rob
11 days ago
Reply to  KPA

Thats beside the point, if Sturgeon is bullying per party into passing laws that are unpopular with the Scottish public, then the Scottish public can hold them to account and vote them out. If the matter is fully devolved then it is not for Westminster to intervene. Boris Johnson bullied his party into passing unpopular laws, that didn’t give Brussels the right to intervene did it!

Last edited 11 days ago by Rob
Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
11 days ago

Sturgeon of the S N P was Democraticly elected Sunak was not elected he was imposed on us i rest my case

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
11 days ago

Yesterday, it was goodbye human rights. Today it’s goodbye democracy. What tomorrow, food, water and oxygen?

Doctor Trousers
11 days ago

As someone born and raised in Scotland, I am too furious to comment anything productive from that perspective.
As someone who calls Wales my home, I will say that anyone who still favours home rule within the union needs to take a long, hard look at Starmer’s reaction to this.
His failure to condemn this makes an absolute mockery of the idea that the best thing for Wales is to wait for labour to get into power and deliver constitutional reform.

Isabel Jones
Isabel Jones
11 days ago

Karl Johnson and Doctor Trousers are right. Sturgeon’s proposals have to be opposed on legal grounds. What she proposes is in conflict with the Equality Act 2010 and will have consequences, foreseen and unforeseen, on massive swathes of legislation written in the days when everyone knew what a man and a woman were. What Sturgeon has done has set back hopes of Scottish independence for decades to come, because Scottish women will not vote for independence having seen how badly they could lose out without Westminster’s protection. The women of Wales are taking notice too and like Scottish women will… Read more »

Doctor Trousers
11 days ago
Reply to  Isabel Jones

you got my point completely and utterly backwards.
I was referring to starmer’s failure to condemn the tories.
I don’t agree with anything you just said.

R W
R W
11 days ago

I totally agree. Keir Starmer’s Labour = The Tory Lite Party!

Anorthosis Famagusta
Anorthosis Famagusta
11 days ago

I for one am quite glad that this policy is being blocked – and the Westminster Govt. is quite right to do so under its legislative competence, as it affects all British citizens. I don’t want to see people being discriminated against, and I support people’s right to self-expression – but I think most people would want to see children protected from making life-changing decisions involving hormones and surgery before they become adults, and would like to ensure that ‘women-only’ spaces continue to exist. Instead of dealing with issues that are beyond its competence, the SNP should prioritize governing Scotland… Read more »

Dark Mrakeford
Dark Mrakeford
11 days ago

Please explain how this affects all British citizens given that it only applies to people in Scotland. Because it seems like you are thinking more with your personal agenda rather than the constitutional impact.

Charles Coombes
Charles Coombes
11 days ago

Yet another step along the road to fascism.

Cawr
Cawr
11 days ago

Good that they’re blocking such a dangerous bill that defies one of humanity’s biggest factors. Bad that it’s the UK gov thats doing thé blocking.

KPA
KPA
11 days ago

I am not a fan of the Tories (would never vote for them) – I hate their promotion of wealth inequality. They have driven many people into grinding poverty and are jeopardising the health of us all, especially disabled people. But in this particular instance the government is doing the right thing for equality. If this Scottish legislation is passed then it will indirectly eliminate many of the protections women now enjoy through the Equality Act. Single-sex provision will cease to be legal, as a male-bodied (yes, entirely male-bodied) person can get himself certified as a woman and enter any… Read more »

Jeff33
Jeff33
11 days ago

Let’s stop pretending … Scotland, NI and Cymru … are no more than England’s territorial regions.
The Secretaries of State should be retitled, ‘Viceroy’

Brenda
Brenda
11 days ago
Reply to  Jeff33

This is an excellent article. It sets out the case clearly why Scotland have made a bad law which will be hard to implement.. Women and girls rights and safety are at stake. No-one here seems to care about the existing laws which are there to protect women and girls safety, dignity and fairness. Trans people already are protected in the law. This is the only case where one group of people are trying to take away the rights of another. I support the UK government on this interception of bad law. If you dont – you dont care about… Read more »

Brenda
Brenda
11 days ago

It is now clear this is a battle about independence. But any independence which colludes with the oppression of women and girls is not independence, but a regressive regime.

Ms. Pankhurst
Ms. Pankhurst
11 days ago
Reply to  Brenda

Indeed. So regressive and misogynistic it prioritises the feelings of a tiny handful of mentally ill ” transwomen” above the safety and dignity of women and girls.Absolutely disgusting.

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